Trust me, I am a doctor…


The consensus argument is about maintaining the perception of authority of climate science. Unsurprisingly, often the comparison is made between a climate scientist and a medical doctor as a symbol of this authority. It goes like this: “Do you go to a dentist when you have a heart condition?”. This to indicate that we should agree when scientists say that “climate change is real” and “human caused”.

For the record, I have no interest in going to a dentist with a heart condition or to a nutritionist for a surgery. They obviously have their own specialization and skills. But analogies are great as far as they go, but only go so far. Analogies can be a great tool for explaining something new or something difficult to grasp. But it goes only as far as the similarities go. It seemed a fun project to find out how far I could stretch the analogy.

There are of course similarities. The human body is a complex organism, just as climate is a complex system. Both contain different processes that also interact with each other. They both are the object of study by scientists.

But there are also important differences. Medical science is several centuries old (there were medical schools around the first millennium). It wasn’t like the medical science of today of course. Back then they probably healed with herbs, ointments and blood letting. Medical science came a long way since then. The human body is studied very detailed these days, even the human genome is known to the last sequence. Lots of diseases have been studied and for most of them a successful cure was found or can be controlled. This has been done over many centuries and many, many patients. Experience about diagnosing and curing diseases is very large.

The same can not be said of climate science. A lot is known about climate, but climate science is a relatively young science. There is only reliable data since 30 – 50 years or in some cases even since the last decade. Before that the data is really sparse and/or in a not standardized format. They were used to gather for example weather data in a specific place, not climate data globally. Climate is weather over a longer time frame. It probably takes about 60 years for one cycle. So there isn’t even reliable data for one measly cycle. And how much experience do we have in diagnosing the effects of current CO2 levels?

There seem to be a lot of disciplines involved in climate science that all study a different subset of climate. Which expert do you believe when it comes to climate? Do you believe a paleontologist, a mathematician, a chemist, an ecologist, an economist,…? What if a paleontologist is talking about the meteorology or an ecologist about the economy?

In medical science, patients can be studied by comparing with healthy individuals. This is not exactly true in climate science. We don’t have a spare planet exactly as ours to investigate the differences that will occur when we pump in or extract CO2 out of the atmosphere. We seem to have only one patient and we don’t really know if he is sick and if so, how sick and how to cure. The data being used to diagnose seem to be highly processed and adapted data (look at how the the GISS data set morphed over time, returning it unrecognizable in the end) or computer models (that try to model an intrinsic chaotic system).

But last but not least, I will only go to a cardiologist that I trust. I will not go to someone who is known for making wrong diagnoses time after time or exaggerate their diagnoses for whatever reason.

To me it is clear the doctor analogy doesn’t hold much water. The two obviously have similarities, but in the end are too different to really compare.

Let me just say that I will trust some scientists, not all. Just as I will trust some doctors, not all. Depending on their specific skills, how trustworthy/successful they were in the past, how they were willing to share their data, how well they predicted things,… Trust is not a given, it is something that is earned. Whether one is a doctor or a climate scientist, both alike.


2 thoughts on “Trust me, I am a doctor…

  1. DaveA

    Thanks. I’ve previously made similar observations e.g. one patient Earth. Millions of people have lent themselves in one way or another to medical science to learn from. And medical science has often screwed up, but the screw ups still provide valuable feedback. Trust a doctor who wants to drill a hole in your head to release the demons? Radium toothpaste?


  2. trustyetverify Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Dave.

    That’s indeed what I wanted to say with this post. Over more than a millennium there were a gazillion patients, so a lot of experience with diseases in medical science. It can’t compare well with the one and only “patient” of climate science. It doesn’t make a good analogy.

    I also agree with you that there were a lot of strange screw ups in medical science. The examples that you gave are only a few of the many. That was part of the learning process. Maybe within some decades people will look back to the current enviro-scares and mock about it, just as we now do with radium toothpaste or drilling holes in heads for what we now know is not a very good reason…



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